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Asked and Answered

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Asked and Answered: June 7

Let’s get to it:

RON FOX FROM TRAVELERS REST, SC: ​

The Steelers were awarded the first overall pick in the 1970 NFL Draft, which they used to select Terry Bradshaw. Under today’s rules, would the Steelers or the Chicago Bears have gotten the first pick?

ANSWER: The 1970 NFL Draft was the first one held following the merger of the NFL and AFL into one league that was divided into two conferences – the NFC and the AFC. But the 1970 Draft also was based on the results of the 1969 season, and even though the NFL and the AFL still played separate schedules, it was a combined draft.

The Steelers and the Chicago Bears each finished at 1-13, the worst records in either league in 1969, and at that time ties for draft order were broken by a coin toss. There was no official procedure for determining which team called the toss of the coin, but Art Rooney Sr. convinced his son, Dan, to allow the Bears to call it because he believed that put all of the pressure on them The Steelers ended up with the first overall pick after the Bears called the toss and lost.

If that situation would happen today, here is what operations.nfl.com says about breaking a tie for draft order:

“In situations where teams finished the previous season with identical records, the determination of draft position is decided by strength of schedule — the aggregate winning percentage of a team’s opponents. The team that played the schedule with the lowest winning percentage will be awarded the higher pick.”

In 1969, the Bears’ 1-13 record was fashioned against opponents with a combined 108-81-7 record, and ironically their only victory was by 38-7 over the Steelers. The Steelers’ 1-13 record came against opponents that finished a combined 97-90-9. At that time, the NFL didn’t count ties in figuring out winning percentage, and so the Bears’ 1-13 came against opponents with a combined .571 winning percentage, while the Steelers’ 1-13 came against opponents with a combined .519 winning percentage. Since the Steelers finished 1-13 against a lesser schedule, they would have gotten the first overall pick under today’s rules, and history would have been unchanged.

JASON PRASTER FROM SAN ANTONIO, TX:

Lately in Asked and Answered, there have been a few questions regarding Troy Polamalu. I got to see Polamalu play in college when USC played Penn State in the Kickoff Classic back in 2000 in East Rutherford, NJ. His hair had not yet defined him, so I only remember his name because he intercepted a pass in the first half and scored. That pretty much put the dagger in Penn State. Do you think Polamalu is a first ballot Hall of Famer, and where is he ranked among your best safeties in Steelers history?

ANSWER: The first thing to understand is that a player becomes a first ballot Hall of Fame selection not by exceeding some qualitative standard but by being elected by the voters, and by definition, every election is a popularity contest. Will he be elected on the first ballot? Any answer I give to that would be a guess, and I really have no insight into how the Board of Selectors will view Polamalu’s career against the other players who will be eligible for induction that year. As to where I would rank him among all-time Steelers safeties, he is in the top two along with Donnie Shell.

SCOTT BUCHANAN FROM OTTAWA, ONTARIO, CANADA:

With Ben Roethlisberger’s career having rounded third base, how do you see management deciding to replace him? Draft, trade, free agent, or Landry Jones? My gut tells me the Steelers won’t want to wait two or three years for a rookie to come into his own while the team struggles to compete.

ANSWER: Maybe you slept through it, but there was this three-day event held in late April called the 2018 NFL Draft. With their first pick in the third round, the Steelers selected Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph. Following the draft, with Coach Mike Tomlin sitting next to him at a table in the Media Room at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, General Manager Kevin Colbert said, “We took Mason Rudolph in the third round. The other day, when we talked in our pre-draft press conference, we talked about adding another quarterback into the mix at some point. It got to a point where it got to be a pretty easy decision for us to add such a quality quarterback to our team. You know, this draft had a really good, unique quarterback class, (where previously) we haven’t had that much depth at the top of this position, or at the top of the draft at that position, in a long time. Mason was certainly a part of that group in our opinion. When he was available to us at that point in the third round, it was a very easy decision to choose him.”

In other words, the Steelers viewed Rudolph as being a similar caliber player to Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen and Josh Allen and Sam Darnold and Lamar Jackson. This shouldn’t be taken to mean the Steelers are about to push Ben Roethlisberger out the door, because they aren’t, but if anything were to happen over the next four years, they have a succession plan in place.

MICHAEL DAVENPORT FROM TEHACHAPI, CA:

With Mike Vrabel taking over as the new head coach of the Texans, it reminded me of his departure from the Steelers after he became an unrestricted free agent. He played a huge role in the New England Patriots upset win over the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI and was a key defender for years afterward. Do you remember what led to the Steelers passing on signing him after his rookie contract?

ANSWER: The Steelers defensive coordinator at the time was Jim Haslett, and he proved incapable of figuring out what to do with Mike Vrabel. During one season, his idea was to align Vrabel along the interior of the defensive line as a pass-rusher, but Vrabel was too undersized to thrive in that environment. In my opinion, Haslett failed there, and Bill Cowher didn’t/wouldn’t intervene to figure out a way to keep a good player.

ED JOHNSON FROM GERMANTOWN, OH:

In a previous Asked and Answered, you stated that Jack Ham transformed the way linebackers played in the NFL. Can you explain more about how that changed?

ANSWER: In 2013, as part of its 50th Anniversary, the Pro Football Hall of Fame picked a 50th Anniversary Team from among the more than 200 players who had been voted into Canton at that point in time. There were three linebackers picked as part of this team: Dick Butkus was the middle linebacker, with Lawrence Taylor and Jack Ham as the outside linebackers. The following is what was written about Ham in explaining his selection.

“Smart, instinctive, great football IQ. Ham was a sure tackler who could diagnose plays very quickly, and he was also able to handle the quickest of backs in coverage. The 1970s was the decade when running backs really started to get involved in the passing game, eventually giving rise to the third-down back. Ham could handle them all. It is said that, from zero to 10 yards, Ham was faster than any other Steelers defender. There were those within the organization who felt that he was the club's best player. Ham certainly belonged in that conversation with ‘Mean’ Joe Greene, as he also played an integral role on the four Super Bowl-winning teams of the 1970s. Ham's 53 career takeaways (32 interceptions and 21 fumble recoveries) remain the highest figure ever by a non-defensive back.

“COMPETITION AT OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: While Taylor is undoubtedly the greatest outside linebacker to ever walk this earth, a couple of OLBs did push Ham a bit. Bobby Bell was widely recognized as one of the finest athletes of his day, and certainly one of the AFL's premier defenders. His Chiefs won the last AFL-NFL Super Bowl in January of 1970. Ted Hendricks was a fantastic linebacker and prolific kick blocker, returning serve on over 20 boots in a ridiculously successful 15-year career. (Hendricks made his eighth Pro Bowl as a 36-year-old linebacker in 1983.) Rickey Jackson and Andre Tippett were LT clones, annually ranking in the top five at the position. Lastly, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better pass rusher than Derrick Thomas.

“TOUGHEST CUT: No one -- Taylor and Ham stood out above the rest.”

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